Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

The United States presence in Latin America is often represented in simple terms, as a violent oppressor or noble saviour. There are many ideas around this concept but it is up to us to uncover the truths behind them. There is a stigma that comes with being so powerful, and in the case of the United States a negative stigma has been given to its name because even since the beginning, its presence in the region has been stabilised to the expense of Latin America’s peoples. On the other hand, one cannot think of the United States without thinking of mass-consumption, excess, technology, and the idea of progress. For example, even today, the most important technology companies are located in one specific region of the U.S: Silicon Valley. In the case of Latin America, American companies, and therefore, American commercial influence has been present since the very beginning. Once the need in the United States was created for products it could not harvest itself, then new markets had to be reached. Latin America was a great candidate because of its geographical location (the tropics and Sothern hemisphere). It had all the necessary raw materials need for production and commerce, and finally, it was a great market place for the new products being made up north. However, these commercial relationships, at the beginning of the twentieth century, were negotiated from a very imperialistic point of view were Americans saw themselves as superior as their Latin American counterparts and stablished ideological, physical, and economic dominance over the this whole ‘under-developed’ region.


The United Fruit Company (UFCO) was a very important enterprise for many Latin American countries because for many of them, the UFCO acted like the sole provider of employment in the region. The UFCO had so much influence in Central America with its banana plantations that in some cases they were more powerful that the governments of these local countries. The UFCO was sometimes the only provider of employment, electricity, health, and even housing for many people who sometimes moved from faraway places to work. But, the UFCO has also being criticized for its exploitative practices were the main focus was given to the bottom-line and no much importance to the actual people who work for them. I think that here is where the problem lies, I mean, too much importance has been given to the commodity production and very little to the labour production and workers of banana plantations. Do we really care where our bananas really come from? Honestly, I did not think too much about it when it came time to buy them, but after reading so much about the importance that banana production had in Latin America, now I will be more conscious about it.


When I was reading about the complexities of cultural flows, I found this topic very interesting because it showed me that this is a phenomenon that has been happening for quite some time and I thought it was a recent one. For example, the story of Carmen Miranda was very fascinating to learn about. She left after being so famous in her home country of Brazil and was attracted by fame and glory in the United States. I wonder if Carmen Miranda ever felt embarrassed for being such a stereotypical figure and wanted to leave it all behind. It must had been pretty boring to always play the sexy Latin woman and never had the opportunity to show more versatility in her acting roles. Furthermore, I see that such appropriation of people and figures still takes place in Latin America and artist like Shakira, for example, leave their home land in order to achieve their dreams in the United States. Personally speaking, I think that if an artist thinks that his/her career will be more successful abroad, then he/she must move. If ‘better’ opportunities happen to be in the U.S, then that is where they must go. However, the problem I have with this is that if during this process of acculturation and ‘crossover’ the artist becomes a racial or a stereotyping cliché, then the artist should remember that he/she also represents a whole community.


Regarding the videos for this week, I must say I was very shocked by the racialized language content they seemed to present. I know they were from another era but still. These videos make you think about power relations and the struggles of some people against other. Also, it makes you think of the geographical division and epistemologies of a global North versus the underdeveloped South. As well as, of how people may see themselves as better than others and how media, once again, plays an important part in promoting and seeding stereotyping ideologies. Not even cartoons from Walt Disney were exempt from playing such an important discriminatory and racialized role in all of this.

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